"Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy, perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and with hearts as big as a cloudless sky." — "Marley and Me" by John Grogan
There are many ways that a student can spend his or her summers, but a special few devote time to volunteering at the Tri County Humane Society
in Boca Raton, Fla.
The Tri County Humane Society attracts volunteers for a number of reasons. A few need to fulfill community service hours, some are trying to recover from the loss of a former pet, a handful are trying to fill the void of never being able to have a dog to begin with, and others are volunteering for the pure satisfaction of knowing they brightened a lonely animal's day.
Whatever the reason may be, talk to any volunteer dog walker and it is clear that they are getting as much from the experience as the dogs are.
"I take the dogs out for a walk, one at a time, make sure that they get some exercise, fresh air, and of course, playtime. But I really do believe that the people walking the dogs benefit just as much," said Sawyeh Esmaili, a volunteer dog walker.
At the Tri County Humane Society, volunteers
are "indispensible" according to the Tri County Humane Society website. While the levels of commitment vary, the Tri County Humane Society accepts anyone who is willing to lend a helping hand.
To become a dog walker, for example, those who are interested must attend an orientation session to become acquainted with the rules and procedures of the facility. After this, the volunteers are free to come at their will to walk the dogs. In addition to dog walking, the shelter also accepts volunteers for grooming, office help and fundraising events.
Cara Robins, another volunteer dog walker, is also passionate about her volunteer experience that helped her mourn the loss of her Australian shepherd, Lazer. "Being around dogs has a strong healing factor, and being at the Humane Society allowed me to spend time with other dogs that really needed someone to be there and love them," said Robins.
While local shelters are often not directly affiliated with The Humane Society of the United States
, this well known charity serves as a support system by offering training, evaluations, publications and other professional services, according to the HSUS Web site. Backed by about 11 million Americans, the HSUS is making progress: last year it rescued more than 10,000 animals, according to its annual report
The HSUS advocates for the closure of puppy mills
, or puppy farms, which are factory-like conditions where animals are treated as produce with their well-being and living conditions usually compromised. Puppy mills focus on profit and show little attention to the health and happiness of the animals.
For instance, in August 2009, volunteers in Texas rescued more than 500 dogs from a puppy mill, according to the HSUS Web site. The photographs from the before
scenes of the event are enough to convince anyone that puppy mills are wrong.
The suggested alternative is to adopt
dogs from local shelters that need homes in order to put puppy mills out of business. Robins and her family adopted a dog that was in need, and the arrival of their rescue dog, Max, is a perfect example of a shelter's success story.
"Adopting a rescue dog is one of the best decisions my family and I have ever made. Rescuing a dog is one of the most selfless things one can do," Robins said.
Robins and her family were pleased with the change in temperament as Max adjusted to his new home after his unfortunate past.
"Seeing the transformation from a skittish and scared dog at the beginning to one who was incredibly loving towards others and no longer afraid at the end was amazing to watch. It felt great to give a dog a better home," Robins said.
When looking to add a dog to the family, it is important that people adopt from shelters, rather than supporting the puppy mill business that commonly provides for pet shops.
Advocates against the cruelty to animals such as members of the HSUS, volunteer dog walkers, and those who adopt from shelters are all fighting for the movement to better the lives of animals. In the process, they are getting back as much love and affection as they are providing for the animals in need.
"The sense of fulfillment is incomparable when you take a dog out of its pen and it just leaps at you out of joy and excitement for the few but cherished minutes that are to come," Esmaili said.